David Versus Goliath in the Aru Islands

[awasMIFEE note: part of Maluku provice, but not far from the Papuan coast, the islands of Aru are also facing development of a 500,000 hectare sugar-cane plantation. Only this time local people suspect the company is more interested in logging the timber than in planting sugar. Police recently refused a permit for islanders to hold an indigeous council on 9th-13th December 2013, along with a demostration on Human Rights Day. More information: http://savearuisland.com ]

masyrakat-adat-saleramIn December 2013, PT Menara Group is meant to start operations in Aru. That’s according to the Menara Group’s work schedule which has become general knowledge amongst government officials in Maluku Province and Aru Regency, especially Maluku’s caretaker governor Saut Situmorang.

How can that have come about? The officials claim that all the permits are issued according to procedure, there are no problems with the environmental impact assessment, and the people of Aru raise no objections. If there are some people who object, it is only a handful of people, who are not the customary landowners. Can this all be true?

The call to Save Aru has become a global movement. School and university students, academics, researchers, NGO activists, nature lovers, journalists, artists, religious teachers, all sorts of groups from across five continents have echoed the cry to Save Aru. Petitions have taken off, songs have been sung, performances staged, poetry inspired. The fire of resistance continues to grow.

The giant consorsium PT Menara Group plans to develop sugar-cane plantations in the Land of Aru, the land called Jargaria. It has ambitions to take control of around 500 thousand hectares for this purpose. Before planting this vast plantation and building a sugar factory, first of all it would clear-fell the forest, full of top-quality timber such as meranti, linggua, ironwood and so on. This would inevitably be an ecological disaster, as birds of paradise and other wildlife endemic to Aru are cleared from their natural habitat. This is the Menara Group’s plan which is meeting vehement challenges from the Save Aru movement around the world.

Although resistance to the Menara Group is snowballing, such a giant company is tougher than sago porridge and crackers. The company continues to show its strength as an iron-willed capitalist that knows no surrender. Its manoeuvres continue apace, like an octopus with tentacles that keep on capturing powerful and important people around this republic . So serious are they with this aim Menara Group personnel have even asked for the support of Mercy Barends, a heroine of Aru, known for her persistent opposition to the company.

“We have already spent a lot of money here. We want Aru’s timber because across Indonesia the timber is all gone. We tried to move in to Yamdena but a forestry concession had already been issued there,” a Menara Group employee said to Mercy.

Menara Group have unlimited funds. An Abu Dhabi oil company and industrial giant Samsung from Korea have shares in the Menara Group. Because of this they can use the language of money to embrace friends and subjugate opponents. With this money, the Menara Group is able to win over officials at the national and regional levels, both civilians and military.

It is also with money that Menara Group is able to influence government decisions about who should become Caretaker Governor of Maluku Province and Caretaker Bupati in Aru. All of this to ensure the company can enter Aru without problems.

Menara Group has also entertained members of the Aru District Legislative Council, Maluku Provincial Legislative Council, and officials in Aru Regency and Maluku Province. Because of this, the company has managed to embrace almost everyone with an interest in granting permits to the Menara Group, and have got an agreement that a sugar-cane plantation can go ahead in Aru. A photo album of an event where Aru District Council members were hosted by Menara Group has been obtained by Maluku Online. Similarly, many Menara Group employees were seen to attend the wedding reception of a child of a Department of Trade official.

Caretaker Governor Saut Situmorang is one of those who Menara Group has contrived to smooth the way for its entry to Aru. The same thing has happened in Aru Regency. Abraham Gainau is the caretaker Bupati (District Head) who is also in the same position – smoothing the way for the Menara Group. Abraham was previously the Aru District Secretary and is in the same clique as Tedhy Tengko – the former Bupati of Aru who is currently a corruption convict in Sukamiskin Prison It was Tengko who first opened the door for the Menara Group, by issuing a recommendation without a prior Environmental Impact Assessment.

When Commission B of the Maluku Provincial Representative Council summoned technical bodies and also Menara Group directors and commissioners, these big men went first to meet with Saut Situmorang in the Maluku governor’s office. Saut then directed his staff to appease Menara Group with supporting regulations.

At the moment Menara group have arrived at villages bringing large quantities of cash in plastic bags, escorted by police and the military. They have already brought heavy machinery which is ready to tear down the forest. They are currently trying to persuade village heads and landowners to sign over their land to the Menara Group. Most recently, when they arrived at Desa Popjetur several days ago, the head of the Siarukim clan emphatically refused this large sum of money, and is still not prepared to surrender the land to the Menara Group.

Menara Group and its lackeys have started to take concrete steps to weaken the resistance of the Save Aru movement. Amongst other tactics they have made statements to the press, anonymous or threatening text messages, provoked conflict, tried to make others take the blame. Amongst others, one strategy has been to accuse Save Aru activists of being funded by rival company PT Nusa Ina, ie. that PT Nusa Ina had paid for all the acts of resistance. This allegation continues to be built up with the aim of fomenting antipathy and at the same time dividing the movement resisting the Menara Group. The people of Aru should be very careful of this politics of divide and conquer.

The company has stated that the people of Aru agree with the sugar-cane plantation, it is only activists that oppose it. This is also a false statement. By now Save Aru movement has grown widely, and it all began when Ursia and Urlima community leaders visited the Maluku Protestant Church’s Research and Development board to request the help of Father Jacky Manuputty to deal with the threat from the Menara Group. Kalesang Institute Maluku in Ambon and the Aru Indigenous Youth Coalition in Dobo have already collected 71 signatures of village heads in Aru, that on the whole oppose the Menara Group. In total there are 117 villages, 10 sub-villages (dusun) and two other administrative areas (kelurahan). The other villages have not yet been reached, because of the difficulty of the terrain and because activists do not have sufficient time or resources to reach every last corner of Aru.

The Menara Group has also made a statement to the press that the PT Menara Group’s permits are in accordance with regulations, including the Environmental Impact Assessment. This statement is a lie, since the environmental assessment was only produced after Tedhy Tengko issued his recommendation, followed by former Maluku Governor Karel Ralahalu’s recommendation

How can the Environmental Impact Assessment possibly be true? According to land expert Prof. Dr J. E. Loihenapessy, 85% of the land surface of Aru consists of coral, and only 15% alluvial sediments. It is not possible to develop a sugar-cane plantation on this land, so it should not be possible to issue an environmental impact assessment. If one was produced, it must contain irregularities. Environment expert Dr. Abraham Tulalessy claims that he had reminded the Environmental Impact Assessment Cmmission when it met, that Menara Group’s permit and environmental assessment process infringes regulations and that has legal implications.

“We could all end up in prison,” said Tulalessy.

Last Defence

The Menara Group has already got a hold on the centre of power in Jakarta, and also at the provincial and regency level. Bureaucrats, politicians and other adventurers are making money from becoming the Menara Group’s servants, loyal to the company and hoping for rewards. They have become blind to the actual situation in Aru and deaf so they cannot hear the screams of the Jarjui people. In short, they no longer are touched by feeling. They only care about money.

The industrial giant’s current main target is to win the hearts of landowners in the villages of Aru. As usual, they come as if they had blown in from the heavens, a good company that will provide employment and bring economic security. What’s more, the Menara Group has several experts in initiating polite communication with the public, that can build up sympathy from villagers for their industrial project.

Promises of economic security are an addictive drug that is sure to get people high. Throughout Maluku’s history, there has not been one single large investment or industry which has been able to bring prosperity to the people. The Dutch East Indies company cultivated cloves and nutmeg and other crops, cajuput oil on Buru, oil on Bula, Nickel on Gebe, Gold on Wetar. Then came hundreds of logging concessions in Suharto’s New Order era, on Halmahera, Bacan, Obi, Taliabu, Buru, Seram and Wetar, and not one of them brought security. The companies catching fish and prawns are also not bringing prosperity. Now the Menara Group consortium wants to fell Aru’s forests, turn them into sugar-cane and promises that this will bring security? This is truly the biggest lie of the twenty-first century, with the world on fire as it is now.

But that is what companies which exploit nature are like, they use everything in their power to destroy the forest with beautiful acts of deception. Within the last two years alone, Menara Group has brought many experts from around Indonesia and abroad to the area. They have come from Bogor, Papua, Japan, Korea, England, Netherlands, Germany and even Africa. There are land experts, expert in aerial photography. They use satellite imagery to calculate the value of the timber that can be harvested, or they facilitate operational permits for the company, or with cultivation permit in hand, relieve the land owners of their land.

A positive image, promises of security and cash placed in front of their eyes, surely can break through anyone’s defences. Thankfully though, the people of Aru are not soft. They will stand firm, like the trunks of the mangroves that enclose Aru like a green heaven. Their roots grasp the seabed while their branches reach for the sky. Examples such as that shown by the Siarukim clan chief in Popjetor gladden their hearts. Menara Group came with all their money, security guards, smiles and seduction, but were still rejected.

This is proof of the Aru people’s strength. The customary landowners of Aru are the last line of defence, now there is no hope from Jakarta, Ambon or Dobo, and it is the villages and their clans which stand firm and decide between life and death in Aru’s future.

Let’s resist! Let’s pray for Aru. The people of Aru are David to the Menara Group’s Goliath. Who will win? It is for the people of Aru to decide their own fate. Do they want to give over their land to giant investors or conserve Aru with its birds of paradise and other flora and fauna, and with the history of its ancestors and the Jarjui people.

It is both interesting and poetic to take this chance to hear some voices of young people and women from Aru. “We will defend our land to the last drop of blood,” says Mika Ganobal, leader of the Aru Indigenous Youth Coalition.

“I am not afraid of guns, not afraid of bullets,” says Mama Costansa, a sixty-year-old woman. Mama Costansa sells vegetables and spices in Dobo market, and with friends once occupied the Dobo District Attorney’s office for a month to demand that Tedhy Tengko should be sent to prison. That time, they were successful.

Jirjir Duai protect the people of Jarjui, the people of Aru

Jar Duai protect Jargaria, the Land of Aru.

by Rudy Fofid, Ambon

Source: http://malukuonline.co.id/2013/11/daud-vs-golliath-di-tanah-aru/

For more information about the struggle to Save Aru: http://savearuisland.com

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